Only one thing struck me more powerfully on September 9, 2001 than my numbness and sadness over the event, and that was the wave of sympathy and support the world had for the United States. Sure, we were still the global bad boys (you can’t be the biggest kid on the block and avoid constant criticism), but others with nothing but hatred had struck a low blow and the world didn’t like it. A window had opened. We had the moral high ground and a chance to move forward; pursuing justice, certainly, but also pursuing all of what makes our nation great. The world was suddenly and strangely moldable. Had we as a nation confessionallyadmitted that we had done things to fuel anger and resentment in some people and nations, and proclaimedthat this was now over, we could have used our considerable influence, creativity, wealth and new found receptivity to help shape a new world known for justice and equality, peace and cooperation. We could have starved the flames of terrorism. Instead we fed and fanned them.
We have another window of possibility now. It is not nearly as wide as the one ten years ago, nor will it stay open long, but it is open. Our expenditure of enormous resources and attention on pursuing Osama bin Laden has removed him as the figurehead of terrorism. While everyone knows that terrorism is far from over because of this one man’s death, the question is, “What will theU.S.do now?” Was bin Laden just one big block to knock over and we will continue to knock over more blocks until none remain? Or will we start something new in the world?
We have removed the leader of this movement of destructiveness and now we can replace it with a leadership of hope. We can turn to the places in this world where people feel that they have no choice but to lash out at the world, and we can create opportunity. We can go to the places where justice has no voice so that lawlessness is a necessity, and we can bring accountability.
I am not a political scientist; I am a person of faith who trusts in the power of what God is doing in this world. I am sure that my proposal is naïve and unpersuasive to those who are looking at the facts of the matter, but dealing with the facts of the matter has made our world less safe and more factionalized. It is the job of every person, community and nation to do what is right. Not only because it is good for oneself, but because it is the right thing to do. This is what it means to live in hope.
And we will discover that doing what is right for the whole world (and this doesn’t just include political powers, or even people, but creation in its fullest and most inclusive sense) will be in our national interest, creating the best world for us to live in as well.
Shane Claiborne said some things about Acts chapter 2 that opened this up for me when we were talking about poverty as part of our JustStart> at Jacob’s Well. The relevant verses are Acts 2.44-45
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Now one can throw up all sorts of complications around this passage, like how they pooled and distributed their wealth, and the difference between needs and wants. Such controversies miss the point, however, which is that when the church began, they happily and mutually filled the holes in each others lives.
Elimination of poverty isn’t a requirement or a duty of the church, it is simply what happens when church happens. In other words it isn’t giving your congregation a name, a constitution or erecting a building that makes you a church, it’s God working among and through you to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. When people are church, they start living differently – others see that and like it. They want to be part of it. And when they do, they too are part of the church and their needs are met. The contagious, ever expanding, life-giving movement that introduces the kingdom of God is happening.
What is a sign that a church just got born? Needs are met. Poverty – all types – ends.
- If you are thinking of starting a church, don’t miss this.
- If you are wondering what to do with your church, don’t get distracted from this.
- If you are looking for a church, look for this as a sign of a living one.
Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!
We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!
Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.
Prologue: Jacob’s Well, the church I serve, has been working it’s way through a worship season called JustStart> (developed by a collaborative of people and agencies) and it has helped us learn a lot about being the church, not just having a church. I’ve been learning a lot too. The next entries are a way for me to put some of what has emerged as particularly compelling to me out for others to read, comment on, challenge, borrow, whatever. Thanks for reading.
Poverty doesn’t end by everyone Having MORE.
When we say that the poor need more, what we tend to think is that they should have something closer to what we have. Can’t work. Thomas Friedman, in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, discusses a unit of measure first developed by Tom Burke, called the ‘Americum.” It is any group of 350 million people with an average income greater than $15,000 and a growing penchant for consuming. It is an America. There are now approximately 2 Americums in the world. One in North America, and the other in Europe with some help from spots in Asia and South America. But by 2030, with economic growth and the development of a middle class around the world, Friedman tells us there will 8 or 9. The problem is that this planet doesn’t have enough resources to support that much consumption.
If the world is going to level off, it isn’t going to be at the energy intense, hyper-consumption mode we have here in the U.S. And besides the resource impossibility, if we stop and think about it we also know that it isn’t our ‘ stuff’ that fulfills our lives anyway.
This is Step 1 because it is an illusion we all just have to get over: we aren’t going to save this world by helping them become wealthy in the fashion of the west.
What is ironic is that while the earth isn’t nearly big enough for us all to share in the American dream, it is more than big enough for us all to share in God’s dream for us. It’s time to look elsewhere for what will satisfy our and everyone else’s needs.
It seems that the challenge of the bible isn’t what it means. Okay, that is tough. It’s hard to understand what the bible is saying in lots of places. But the basic message is pretty clear. The bible is talking about loving and caring for our neighbor. It is about recognizing God as the only feasible center of our lives. Stuff like that. The question isn’t ‘What do all the individual passages about this mean?’, it’s ‘How will I do that?’ And that isn’t a debate question, it’s an action issue. Just do it. Afterward go to bed thanking God for a chance to try, asking forgiveness for what you messed up or missed, and a hint about how to do it tomorrow.
What do you have to know to follow Jesus? If you know that God loves you, and everyone else in the world, then you know enough to be dangerous.
Go be dangerous.